Paris cafe black and white

Jonah Peretti on on the BuzzFeed approach: 'People love the Paris cafe'

Credit: Image by by Pat Guiney on Flickr. Some rights reseverd
BuzzFeed readers in the UK will see a different selection of stories from US readers when they go to the website from today.
 
The social and viral site that provides stories for the "bored-at-work", such as cat lists and pictures of basset hounds running, has hired a team of four UK journalists who are producing stories for a British audience.

Rather than having a dedicated BuzzFeed UK site, stories written with British readers in mind will be integrated within the global site, and will be flagged up to UK audiences on the homepage and via the new @BuzzFeedUK Twitter account..

UK readers are unlikely to notice the changes when coming to the site, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti told Journalism.co.uk, but they should notice an increasing number of UK-centric stories.

The team, led by former NME.com editor Luke Lewis, has already started work with posts such as 21 simple ways to swear like Malcolm Tucker and 47 hilariously underwhelming local news headlines.

Peretti, who co-founded Huffington Post before launching BuzzFeed in 2006, spoke at the Guardian Changing Media Summit on Friday afternoon. He revealed that BuzzFeed already has 2 million monthly UK readers out of a global audience of 40 million. The aim is "to serve them better and speak to a UK audience", he said.

As well as providing stories for the "bored-at-work network", BuzzFeed increasingly caters for the "bored-in-line network", with people reading on their mobiles while waiting in queues and at bus stops. Indeed more than 40 per cent of readers are now reading the site on a mobile.

At Friday's conference Peretti shared his tips for publishers. And in true BuzzFeed style here they are as a list.

1. 'Have an idea but have a way to spread it'

"The viral distribution strategy is as important as the idea itself," Peretti said.

"Too often people spend 90 per cent of their time on the idea. You should spend an equal amount of time thinking how the idea is going to spread."

He said viral distribution is a "combination of art and science". BuzzFeed uses an "R value", an equation to calculate the potential of a story going viral. It also uses "machine learning" to predict social hits, looking at the half-life of how long stories are seen for on Facebook and Twitter.

2. 'Understand the platform'

Understand the difference between Facebook and Google, Peretti said. Where Google is about information, with people searching for content, Facebook is emotional and about relationships with other people.

"Some content makes you feel better – and that's emotional and about relationships," he said. And that is why BuzzFeed has created its own buttons so people can "express emotion" in a single click.

BuzzFeed buttons

Peretti gave the example of how a day after the Sandy Hook school shooting at the end of last year, BuzzFeed published its '26 moments that restored our faith in humanity'. And 1.6 million people responded by 'liking' that post on Facebook, according to the buttons, which show well over half a million shares.

"Aggregation worked for search, but scoops and reporting quality work for social," he said.

And now BuzzFeed is creating content with both Google and Facebook in mind. "We are building matrix of informational content and emotional content," he said.

3. 'People love the Paris cafe'

Social is beyond the "pure emotional content", Peretti said. At the end of 2011 BuzzFeed hired Politico writer Ben Smith as editor-in-chief. And the site got its first scoop three days later, when BuzzFeed reported that John McCain was to endorse Mitt Romney in his bid for the White House. CNN did not initially credit BuzzFeed, Peretti said, as the broadcaster had not yet realised the site had gone beyond cute cats.

Let's embrace the things that make us human even if it is diverse and contradictoryJonah Peretti
But how can the same site publish a story about Obama's secret trip to Aghanistan and a list of 33 animals that are extremely disappointed in you?

Peretti said that BuzzFeed's approach to publishing is now like the Paris cafe. It is a place where books about philosophy circulate, but it is also a place where you may also lean down to stroke a dog. "Just because you pet the dog it doesn't make you any less smart," he said. "Let's embrace the things that make us human even if it is diverse and contradictory."

And the diversity of content is growing. Not only has BuzzFeed expanded to the UK, but has also built studio in Los Angeles from where it is producing video content, plus it has opened a Hollywood bureau.

4. 'Content is coming to advertising'

BuzzFeed has gained a lot of attention for innovating in the advertising space. 100 per cent of its revenue is from "social content marketing", as Peretti calls it.

There has been a "shift to social advertising" he said, where brands create and sponsor content "that people want to click on", such as the 20 coolest hybrid animals which was created as advertising for hybrid car Toyota Prius.

There is a "church and state separation" of content produced by BuzzFeed journalists and by the brands, with clear labelling and a different colour to indicate sponsored content.

Peretti thinks that the "Mad Men age" of the 1950s created better advertising. "But social can make ads great again."

5. 'Social is a way of thinking'

"Social is a way of thinking, not a trick," Peretti said, explaining that he thinks the Facebook frictionless social reader apps, such as the one launched and since axed by the Guardian, were "tricks".

6. There are a number of reasons why people share

He listed some of the reasons behind sharing:
  • People share heart warming stories, such as a picture of a card written by a child to his adoptive father;
  • People share to affirm messages about identity, the reason why many left-handed people chose to share a list of the worst things for left-handed people;
  • People share content that captures the moment, that "publishes into the Zeitgeist";
  • "Animals are not about animals, animals are about being human," Peretti said, explaining why people share cute dog pictures'
  • People share very human stories;
  • People like nostalgia;
  • People share stories on human rights – "as they make you look good".

For more tips and news, take a look at other articles about social media on Journalism.co.uk.

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